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A Biden presidency could have huge implications for Silicon Valley social media companies, both in terms of potential regulation that could be coming over the next four years and overall business and consumer sentiment. After all, under any presidency, the governing philosophy of the White House administration tends to be reflected in how it interacts with the tech sector. Thus, a Republican administration tends to produce more pro-business, pro-growth and low-regulation policies, while a Democratic administration tends to focus more on pro-consumer and high-regulation policies. So what can we expect to see once a Biden-Harris administration takes over in 2021?
Potential breakup of the big social media companies
During the Trump administration, the White House actually gave very little thought to breaking up the big Silicon Valley social media companies. Yes, Trump appeared to be engaged in a personal feud with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey at times, but he never hinted that he would break up the company into a lot of tiny pieces. And that has a lot to do with the governing ethos of Republicans, who tend to favor a pro-business, pro-growth environment. They aren’t going to do anything that will hurt Big Business.
But it’s a different story with the Democrats. On the campaign trail, a number of top Democratic contenders for the presidency – most notably Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – vowed that one of the first things that they would do in the White House would be to break up companies like Facebook into a lot of smaller pieces (such as one standalone Instagram piece, one standalone Facebook piece, and one standalone WhatsApp piece). So, be prepared for more discussion and debate around the monopoly power of social media giants, and the need for new antitrust measures.
New levels of social media censorship?
If you thought that social media censorship was out of control in 2020, just wait until next year. Under a Trump administration, the big social media companies were held in check somewhat by threats to re-think Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, in which “interactive computer services” like Facebook and YouTube were free to moderate (and censor) content as much as possible without threat of legal action. Moreover, they were granted legal immunity for any abusive content appearing on their platforms. With a Biden victory, the big social media giants may be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. They will be able to silence or de-platform any voices they please, and they won’t have to worry about any annoying litigation from consumers.
A boost for consumer privacy
However, on the flip side, a Biden victory could have a negative impact on marketing and advertising related to social media. That’s because Biden has already signaled that he is in favor of tighter consumer privacy measures, which could become some of the most restrictive in the world. A pro-consumer approach of any Democratic administration means that consumer privacy could bubble up as a key issue in 2021. It could be some low-hanging fruit for the Biden administration if they strike while consumer sentiment about social media is at a low point. It would be a lot easier to tighten up privacy legislation, all in the name of protecting consumers.
The Washington gridlock factor
Whether there is movement on any of these issues is really linked to what’s happening in Washington. If Democrats manage to win control of both the House and Senate during a Biden administration, then it will be a lot easier to ram through legislation that they support. It would also help to create the illusion of a popular mandate for the Biden-Harris administration, even if the nation as a whole is more polarized than ever before.